When Africa Roars ... the African Economic Conference, a Gathering of Some of the Most Important Institutions Dealing with Africa's Development, Was Held in Tunis in October. the Meeting, Hosted by the African Development Bank, Brought Together Some of the Continent's Brightest Thought Leaders to Discuss Its Place in the World Today and Its Future Prospects

Article excerpt

At the African Economic Conference (AEC), from 27th to 29th October in Tunis, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and its partners - the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the United Nations Programme for Development (UNDP) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) - offered a forum of hope for Africans who will help ensure that "the [African] lion's roar is heard because, until now, it is only the voice of the hunter that we have heard," according to the image used by Donald Kaberuka, president of the AfDB.

A positive tone of voice

Given the content of the speeches, proposals and recommendations, we can say that the fifth AEC largely achieved its objective, which was to "establish an action plan for economic recovery and the long-term growth of Africa."

The debates, which were attended by personalities, international finance ministers, the governors of the central banks of several countries, senior African policy makers, business leaders, development experts and academics of all backgrounds, had a rare richness, and a candid approach - something that a more formal meeting or intergovernmental conference probably would not allow for.

The various roundtables looked at the various scenarios for economic recovery and a return to strong and sustainable long-term growth. But while suggesting avenues of reflection, and even draft solutions, participants did not seek to evade the difficulties, obstacles and failures that still hamper Africa's development, such as political and social instability, poor governance, lack of infrastructure, poor access to energy, the barriers imposed on the movement of people and products, the ongoing poverty, etc.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

And that is the forte of this conference, which, in its fifth edition, has become a forum where leading actors of development in Africa exchange experiences, methodologies and questions not only with their counterparts on the continent, but also with international partners, economic operators and representatives of civil society in a huge brainstorming meeting which is creative, challenging and, above all, rooted in the realities of the continent. But first, how is Africa today?

Adaptation, resilience and recovery

The answer was given by the Tunisian Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, whose country is home to the headquarters of the AfDB and which hosted the ECA. "Africa has been fairly resilient to the crisis. Growth in 2009 was positive, about 2.5%, thanks to strong local demand and the strong support of its partners, headed by the African development, bank," Ghannouchi said. "Africa has a good potential for recovery, with an expected growth of 4.5% in 2010 and 5.2% in 2011," he said. The fact remains that these results, although respectable, are well behind the average growth of 6% per year that prevailed before 2008. They are also accompanied by worsening unemployment, nearly 4 million between 2007 and 2009, tipping about 10 million people into poverty and a further increase in external debt, making it more difficult to achieve the Millennium Goals.

Like the rest of the developing world, the continent felt (and still feels) the effects of the crisis with more or less intensity depending on the country. These effects have impacted on flows of capital, export volumes and prices, transfers of funds and tourism. The crisis threatens to reverse even the positive trends in private investment and thus put in jeopardy the gains of the good economic performance recorded since 2000.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

However, despite the downside, the situation on the continent has many positive aspects, demonstrating a great capacity to adapt to situations and demonstrate improved resilience to the world crisis. In real terms, in a global context of trade deceleration, African exports rose by 6% in 2009, especially to countries in Asia and Latin America, which shows the continent's ability to absorb shocks and rebound. …